The first of the new Torchwood radio plays was on BBC Radio 4 last week, and although it is no longer available on their iplayer, it has made its way onto itunes for quite a reasonable price.
Ah, Torchwood! The show has really grown on me over the past several years. I like its ability to make me interested and uncomfortable at the same time [Countrycide from season one being a prime example]. Sure, Torchwood has its flaws and can be a bit schizophrenic at times, trying to decide quite what it wants to be, but I think that those hit-and-miss times are well balanced by the strong acting and creative plot elements apparent in nearly every episode. Besides, any show that can give us the farce/horror of Something Borrowed, the heart-breaking final minutes of Out of Time, and the chilling fairies of Small Worlds, and the pathetic sweetness of Random Shoes– all in the first two seasons– means that they have something for everyone.
I’ll say upfront that I think Torchwood works pretty well on the radio. In the tradition of “Lights Out” and “Dimension X,” the Torchwood radio plays use the theater of the mind to conjure ideas, locations, and situations that would be difficult (I’d say impossible, but with CGI these days…) to put on the screen. Another nice bonus for the listener is, since the cast is so small now, each character really gets some time to develop– this was especially the case in “Lost Souls.” That was, for those of you who don’t know, the first Torchwood radio play. It was in honor of the activation of the Hadron Collider last winter. The episode served as a lovely transitional piece from the end of season 2 and let Jack, Gwen, and Ianto mourn the deaths of Owen and Tosh.
To get down to the business at hand, we have the second radio drama from the original cast, “Asylum” by Anita Sullivan. This story opens with Gwen’s former partner in the police (P.C. Andy) catching a strange girl shop-lifting. When he sees what looks like a lazer gun, he calls Torchwood in. The team tries to help Freda, only to discover that she is more than she seems… I won’t blow the rest of the plot for you. I want you to enjoy the episode’s many questions.
What did I like?
*The story is a simple enough one that it fits comfortably into the 45 minute episode, but interesting enough that I kept wanting to know more. This simple a story wouldn’t have worked as a television episode, but it fits nicely into the radio format.
*The writing is strong and well-considered. I really enjoyed the blend of mystery and science-fiction.
*Given my interest in words, the discussion about the girl’s language is intriguing.
*Speaking of which, Erin Richards, the actress playing the young girl named Freda, is excellent! She really brought the role to life as a believable, confused, and vulnerable teenager. In fact, this was very much the Gwen, Andy, and Freda show. All three of the actors really have their chance to shine. Ianto and Jack are lesser lights here, although Barrowman’s radio talents are improving nicely and David-Lloyd is consistantly strong in this format.
*The debate between Andy and Gwen over how to treat the girl highlighted the conflicts between personal freedom and community safety that we have to consider in our turbulent times. This is the sort of thing that Torchwood does well. It’s a serious issue with many shades of gray, and definately a concern for intelligent adults.
What didn’t I like?
– *Spoiler* They spent a good deal of time having Freda talk to herself in a Gollum/Smeagel sort of way. I was expecting it to factor into the resolution more.
-The ending felt a bit rushed, like they needed about 5-10 more minutes to really give it the time it deserved.
– The Torchwood theme music feels a bit heavy as the tags on a radio drama.
-I would have liked to hear more of Ianto, who has a very nice voice presence on the radio.
Overall- an interesting episode and well-worth the time. I’m pleased. Let me know what you thought.
Review of “Golden Age” coming later this week…